Bradshaw was educated at the independent The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School in Hertfordshire, and studied English at Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge, where he was president of Footlights.
Bradshaw is the film critic for The Guardian. Before joining The Guardian, Bradshaw was employed by the Evening Standard for whom he wrote a series of parodic diary entries purporting to be written by the Conservative MP and historian Alan Clark, which Clark thought deceptive and which were the subject of a court case resolved in January 1998. The court found in Clark's favour, granting an injunction, deciding that Bradshaw's articles were then being published in a form that "a substantial number of readers" would believe they were genuinely being written by Alan Clark. Bradshaw found it "the most bizarre and surreal business of my professional life. I'm very flattered that Mr Clark should go to all this trouble and expense in suing me like this."
Bradshaw has written three novels, Lucky Baby Jesus, published in 1999, Dr Sweet and his Daughter, published in 2003 and Night Of Triumph, published in 2013. He also wrote and performed a BBC radio programme titled For One Horrible Moment, recorded 10 October 1998 and first broadcast 20 January 1999. The programme chronicled a young man's coming of age in 1970s Cambridgeshire. His bittersweet short story Reunion, first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 21 October 2016, was narrated by Tom Hollander and described as "sad and sly, and connected impermeably to the mid-Seventies and what it felt like to be young". He co-wrote and acted in David Baddiel's sitcom Baddiel's Syndrome, first aired on Sky One.
In a 2012 Sight & Sound poll of cinema's greatest films, Bradshaw indicated his ten favourites, given alphabetically, are The Addiction (1994), Andrei Rublev (1966), Annie Hall (1977), Black Narcissus (1947), Hidden (2004), I am Cuba (1964), In the Mood for Love (2000), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Raging Bull (1980) and Singin' in the Rain (1952).
In early 2017 various professional and candid photos of Bradshaw were used in a highly successful Facebook sticker set named "Peter Bradshaw Feels"
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